What I’m Playing: Into the Breach
I’ve played this game from the makers of FTL:Faster Than Light (another amazing game if you haven’t played it) before, but for such a simple premise its amazingly engaging/addictive. You command a trio of time-traveling mechs fighting the Vek, a race of massive bug aliens, on earth in a turn-based tactical simulator. The aliens are usually more deadly and more resilient than you, and always more numerous, with more arriving every turn. You don’t have to kill them all, but you do need to protect the various structures on the map for five turns. Fortunately, the game can tell you every move before they make it (because you’re time-travelers, after all), which means you are able to set them up for ambushes and combos where the bugs kill each other.
There are different teams with different powers, making for a wide array of possible ways to approach the situation. My favorite is Team Blitzkrieg, which offers the ability to shock many enemies in a long chain, sometimes killing four or five with a single blow. However, Steel Judoka is also a fun team, as it specializes in repositioning the aliens so that they kill each other.
The game makes you endlessly agonize over every decision, trying to sync up your trap to kill or at least deflect the bugs before they can destroy the helpless civilians. It also forces you to make cold-blooded decisions about what mechs and/or buildings to sacrifice to survive, making for a game that’s almost like a mech-alien version of the trolley problem.
The larger lore of the game is also intriguing. The purported goal of the time-traveling mech pilots is to destroy the Vek aliens in every timeline. However, as one pilot observes, this is by definition an endless task, and the pilots may even be contributing to the problem, by creating new timelines every time they jump. And since the various pilots come from the different timelines, there are theoretically endless versions of the limited cast. As one pilot says: “If I meet one of your counterparts I’ll say hello.” It must be very strange to meet a new person who claims to have met another version of you before, or meet an old friend who has no idea who you are.
For a game with no story, I find it enormously fascinating and addictive (which is at least partly due to the banging soundtrack), and it’s no surprise it won a Steams Game of the Year Award for 2018. It’s on sale now, actually, so it would be a good time to pick it up if you’re at all interested. It has the advantage of being able to stop and pick it up at any point, making for a game that you can easily walk away from–except, perhaps, for how that ruins your concentration toward deciphering the perfect strategy.
What I’m (Also) Playing: Sayonara Wild Hearts
Since I’ve played Into the Breach before, I spiced it up with one I haven’t: Sayonara Wild Hearts, a psychedelic racing game with a lot of QTE’s, which wears its Persona 5 influence on its sleeve. It wasn’t, ultimately, my cup of tea, but the aesthetic at play is amazingly trippy and the action fast-paced. It was fun to be along for the ride.
You play a nameless female protagonist in 1920’s garb and a masquerade mask, who rides a motorcycle and carries a Final Fantasy-style sword. You race various stylized motorcyle “gangs” who are similarly dapper and will assault you with strange and amazing powers. Gameplay is fast and varied–sometimes your motorcyle races, sometime it flies, sometimes you need to match blades with the gangs while standing atop your motorcyle, sometimes you get sucked into a VR headset and need to fight back by playing a Space-Invaders game of dodge. Everything is accompanied by flashy colors and a pumping soundtrack.
As I said, it wasn’t my jam–racing games in general aren’t, It’s hard to feel there’s much strategy involved when you can barely see the obstacles coming up in time to dodge them. And despite the variety of gameplay, the uniformity of its flashiness wore thin after a while. But if that sounds like something you’re interested in, go for it.
What I’m Reading: Rise of the Sons
I started this book by JD Mitchell (available on Kindle for 0.99) several weeks ago, and it just took me a while to finish because my schedule has rather dramatically changed, leaving me less time to read and write (but plenty of time to play video games, obviously.) It doesn’t help that it’s a fairly typical YA novel, with a girl with magical powers she’s never known about who must navigate a strange new world of Celtic fey spirits, as she navigates her feelings between two muscular teens, “bad boy” Nash and noble jock football player Leigh.
Hey, like I said when reviewing City of Bones (which this book reminds me of, actually), there’s nothing wrong with following a formula. If it works, go for it.
The first few chapters are fairly interesting as typical-high-school-teenage-girl Ali is attacked by various bizarre Celtic monsters, putting her on the back foot as she tries to fight back against the things she thinks are driving her mad. There’s some exposition dumps as the Leigh, football-jock-who’s-secretly-a-magical-warrior, explains what each monster is and what it does, but nothing too bad.
Also there’s a dragon, which makes everything better.
Mostly, the middle is hampered by a long portion where the central gang just hides out in a local fairy spirit’s underground complex while other things happen elsewhere. There’s a few invasions, and a lot of relationship drama, but mostly you hear about the big cool things happening elsewhere, reminding you how much more interesting it would be to be present at those things instead of agonizing over whether girl will go with muscular nice-guy or muscular bad-boy. (At least City of Bones had the sense to make their two options physically distinct from each other)
The end is much more exciting, with an honest-to-goodness battle outside a castle with monstrous sorceror brothers who are genuinely formidable. There are drones battling dragons, ATV’s charging headless horsemen, great and terrifying spectacles. There’s a particularly cool sequence where the protagonist recites a (longish) spell whilst trying to fight off one of the sorceror brothers. Her match against the final one is… less plausible. Though the powers she discovers are well-foreshadowed, it’s odd that she manages to defeat the final brother so easily.
Overall the book is a lot more fun, if a lot more generic, than a lot of the other unknown Kindle Unlimited books I’ve been reading, and feels like something that you could genuinely build a series off of. And it just came out this past year, so who knows, maybe the author will keep up with it.
(Although, the author used “defiantly” to mean “definitely” and that is just a pervasive and unstoppable trend that just depresses me to my soul. English learners of the future will curse their ancestors for deciding a word should be pronounced two different ways, one of which bears no resemblance to how it’s spelled. Gah.)